- HBO back with “Confirmation” docudrama on the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill episode and Stuart Taylor, Jr. not greatly impressed [Mollie Hemingway, The Federalist]
- Another rogue Eastern District of Texas patent outcome falls, this time it’s Google for $85 million [Joe Mullin, ArsTechnica] “New Bill Designed To Stop Egregious Venue Shopping By Patent Trolls” [Nathan Leamer and Zach Graves, TechDirt]
- “Life in California — A Tax on a Tax” [Coyote]
- Washington Post looks at jury nullification in multi-part series;
- Michael Greve recommends this article on unorthodox methods of lawmaking and administrative law, and his recommendation is good enough for me [Abbe Gluck, Anne Joseph O’Connell, and Rosa Po, SSRN]
- Are public bureaucracies really a fount of innovation? Not really, despite vogue for new Marianna Mazzucato book The Entrepreneurial State [Alberto Mingardi, EconLog]
Did you know that the Affordable Care Act creates an enormous, multi-billion-dollar slush fund — in the out years, it will raise $2 billion a year in perpetuity — for the federal government to spend on more or less anything that might “improve health and help restrain the rate of growth” of health-care costs? That the spending can bypass the Congressional appropriations process, and is rife with expenditures for the purposes of lobbying government itself, which is supposed to be an unlawful use of federal funds?
Somehow it didn’t sink in until I read this excellent investigation in Forbes by Stuart Taylor, Jr., the distinguished commentator and journalist now associated with the Brookings Institution. Because almost any cause arguably advances health, the administrators end up with close to unlimited discretion as to how to spend the money, which results in the usual array of goofy-sounding grant activities ranging “from ‘pickleball’ (a racquet sport) in Carteret County, N.C. to Zumba (a dance fitness program), kayaking and kickboxing in Waco, TX.”
It’s tailor-made for log-rolling and rewarding local friends, but the dangers go beyond that. In particular, as outraged Republicans from Fred Upton (R-Mich.) in the House to Susan Collins (R-Me.) in the Senate have been documenting, large sums from the program have been devoted to the purpose of lobbying for the passage of legislation at the local and state level — notwithstanding specific statutory language making that an unlawful way of spending money raised from federal taxpayers.
To quote Taylor:
* In Washington state, the Prevention Alliance, a coalition of health-focused groups, reported in notes of a June 22, 2012 meeting that the funding for its initial work came from a $3.3 million Obamacare grant to the state Department of Health. It listed a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB), “tobacco taxes,” and increasing “types of outdoor venues where tobacco use is prohibited” as among “the areas of greatest interest and potential for progress.”
* The Sierra Health Foundation, in Sacramento, which received a $500,000 grant. in March 2013, described its plans to “seek local zoning changes to disallow fast food establishments within 1,000 feet of a school and to limit the number of fast food outlets,” along with restrictions on fast food advertising. A $3 million grant to New York City was used to “educate leaders and decision makers about, and promote the effective implementation of. . . a tax to substantially increase the price of beverages containing caloric sweetener.”
* A Cook County, Ill. report says that part of a $16 million grant “educated policymakers on link between SSBs [sugar-sweetened beverages] and obesity, economic impact of an SSB tax, and importance of investing revenue into prevention.” More than $12 million in similar grants went to groups in King County, Wash. to push for changes in “zoning policies to locate fast-food retailers farther from . . . schools.” And Jefferson County, Ala., spent part of a $7 million federal grant promoting the passage of a tobacco excise tax by the state legislature.
These aren’t isolated flukes: they look very much like the normal and planned operation of the program. A $7 million grant to activists in the St. Louis area went in part toward lobbying for the repeal of a state law barring municipal tobacco taxes. The Pennsylvania Department of Health reported on how it used a $1.5 million federal grant: “210 policy makers were contacted . . . 31 ordinances were passed . . . there were 26 community presentations made to local governments .. . and 16 additional ordinances were passed this quarter, for a cumulative total of 47.”
This is outrageous. Congress has enacted and reiterated the ban on lobbying with federal funds because of the obvious unfairness of requiring taxpaying citizens to support political efforts of which they disapprove. Now a combination of the most politicized sector of public health activism (which likes to dictate how people live) and a cross-section of the local political class (which likes to find new ways of raising taxes) is getting massive federal subsidies to pursue such lobbying, often on a scale that can bulldoze disorganized local opposition. If you were wondering why some bad new ideas for local legislation (e.g., zoning to keep fast-food restaurants out of big-city neighborhoods) seem to be everywhere despite a tepid level of voter enthusiasm, now you know. You’re paying for them to be everywhere.
I joined host Ray Dunaway on Hartford’s WTIC this morning to talk about the issue.
Stuart Taylor, Jr. on the need for malpractice reform:
Whatever the number, surveys of doctors and anecdotal evidence — even allowing for self-serving exaggeration — suggest that the occurrence [of defensive medicine] is high. A stunning 93 percent of Pennsylvania specialists in high-risk fields admitted practicing defensive medicine, according to a 2005 survey by the Journal of the American Medical Association. So did 83 percent of high-risk specialists in a 2008 Massachusetts Medical Society survey. That study also found that respondents’ fear of liability accounted for almost 30 percent of the CT scans and MRIs they ordered and had spurred 28 percent of them (including 44 percent of OB-GYNs) to avoid treating high-risk patients. …
Similar considerations explain why we already have specialized courts without juries for vaccine liability, workers’ compensation, bankruptcy, and tax cases.
(cross-posted from Point of Law)
Stuart Taylor agrees that the courts are right to rebuke some of the Bush administration’s aggressive war-powers claims, but that doesn’t make it anything other than a “deeply misguided” notion to try its leaders for supposed “war crimes”, let alone encourage other countries to snatch traveling U.S. ex-officials for trial there (“Our Leaders Are Not War Criminals”, National Journal, Jun. 28).
One of the most dedicated enthusiasts for such trials is attorney/controversialist Scott Horton, who writes at Harper’s and Balkinization and is an adjunct faculty member at Columbia Law School; after noticing how often Horton’s output seemed to be in need of fact-checking, I spent a few minutes just for the fun of it stringing together a sampling of such instances which appears here (scroll).
Stuart Taylor Jr. arraigns the New York Times for the many weaknesses of the recent article by Duff Wilson and Jonathan Glater which sought to rehabilitate the prosecution’s crumbling case. “The Times still seems bent on advancing its race-sex-class ideological agenda, even at the cost of ruining the lives of three young men who it has reason to know are very probably innocent.” (Slate, “Witness for the Prosecution?”, Aug. 29). Earlier: Aug. 25, Jun. 24, etc.
Thomas Sowell nominates the controversy’s low point:
According to Newsweek, the young man at NCCU [North Carolina Central University] said that he wanted to see the Duke students prosecuted, “whether it happened or not. It would be justice for things that happened in the past.”
(“The Biggest Scandal in the Duke University Rape Case”, syndicated/Capitalism Magazine, May 17). The comment was hardly representative of anyone’s views but the one student’s, though, contends John Schwade in the Durham News (“Article opts to sensationalize with its color commentary”, Apr. 29). More: Dr. Helen, Apr. 22. Stuart Taylor Jr. has a powerful column on the subject which however is online only to National Journal/The Atlantic subscribers (“An Outrageous Rush to Judgment”, May 2). And guess who’s involved himself in the case, as an advisor to the complainant’s family? None other than ace money-extractor Willie Gary, long familiar to readers of this site (Wendy McElroy, “Is ‘Duke’ Case Headed to Civil Court?”, FoxNews.com, May 16).
I’ve been mostly out of commission owing to one of the bugs that’s been going around, so although there are a lot of great items in the pipeline, I expect they’ll have to wait a bit. Ted will be posting, though.
In the mean time, for readers who followed Stuart Taylor’s refutation (posted here Jan. 19, with comment) of Stephanie Mencimer’s tendentious Washington Monthly article of last October, the Washington Monthly has at length notified its online readers of Taylor’s response, and posted a (to me, very lame) defense by Mencimer of her article (Feb. 15).
Over the past year journalist Stephanie Mencimer, a frequent contributor to such publications as Mother Jones and the Washington Monthly, has written a series of articles intended to rebut what she calls “The Myth of the Frivolous Lawsuit”. In the course of these articles, Mencimer assails a wide range of writers, publications and institutions that have taken a visible public role criticizing excessive litigation, myself and this site included. Her research often seems to consist of little but the uncritical recycling of allegations circulated by the Litigation Lobby, some of them fifteen or twenty years old and many of them both baldly inaccurate and nastily ad hominem in tone.
I don’t make it a practice to respond to Mencimer’s writings, but the distinguished legal journalist Stuart Taylor, Jr., who writes an influential column for National Journal and contributes to Newsweek, was outraged by her attacks on his work in an article she wrote for the October Washington Monthly and took the time to craft a lengthy, devastating point-by-point rebuttal. He sent it on December 16 to the editors of the Washington Monthly including editor-in-chief Paul Glastris.
Remarkably, in the month since then, the Washington Monthly editors have neither posted the letter for their readers’ benefit nor made any attempt to rebut it. Now Taylor has generously consented to let me post his letter here. Readers can draw their own conclusions about how much of Mencimer’s credibility is left standing after his thorough dissection — and about what it means for the Washington Monthly’s reputation that it seems intent on stonewalling on her behalf. Update Feb. 16: Washington Monthly and Mencimer reply.
He reviews Edwards’s autobiography, Four Trials, which “provides a window into the faux-populist pretenses and other flaws of the system that made this millworker’s son into a multimillionaire.” Aside from Edwards’s cerebral palsy wins, much discussed in this space, there was the punitive damages award he obtained after a truck crash, against the trucking company for having paid its drivers by the mile: the justice of this $4 million award is open to much question as a matter of blame-fixing, aside from which it “ultimately came out of the pockets of the same ordinary, hardworking Americans whose champion he purports to be — and a big chunk of it went into the pockets of John Edwards. … Edwards’s business-bashing, anti-free-trade, us-against-them campaign rhetoric, unlike John Kerry’s, seems sincere. Edwards sounds as if he believes in his bones that behind every misfortune there must be a wealthy villain.” (Stuart Taylor, Jr., “John Edwards: The Lawsuit Industry Puts Its Best Face Forward”, National Journal/The Atlantic, Feb. 25).
Steve Bainbridge, noting Edwards’s jobs-jobs-jobs economic rhetoric, wonders whether the Senator pauses to worry about certain jobs destroyed by some of his main backers (Feb. 25). Edwards’s latest fund-raiser in Houston was hosted by John O’Quinn, who as the impresario of the breast implant litigation that bankrupted Dow Corning knows a thing or two about destroying jobs (Rachel Graves, “Fund-raisers bring Edwards to town”, Houston Chronicle, Feb. 24; Ken Herman, “The 2004 Election”, Cox/Palm Beach Post, Feb. 25). And on the Edwards-and-cerebral-palsy controversy that we and several other webloggers were pursuing earlier this month, Franco Castalone (The LitiGator) has added a pair of posts clarifying and extending his earlier comments, the first of which (Feb. 15) relays a wealth of information about no-fault birth injury compensation programs and the litigation they would replace, and the second of which (Feb. 16) makes some valuable points about civility in disagreement, and also says generous things about this site.